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Like Steward, Bourgois is strongly influenced by Marxist theory. In spite of the gret differences in subject matter, can you see similarities in their approach?

Mode of Production

Savannah Fetterolf

While Steward wrote about cultural ecology and the effect of the environment upon the creation of culture, Bourgois avoided any discussion of environmental factors when recording the Nuyorican experience. Despite the vast disparity in subject matter, the two anthropologists both heavily rely upon Marxist theory to support their conceptualization of how culture comes into existence. For Steward, culture is created because of the relationship “between the resources of the environment, the tools and knowledge available to exploit them, and the patterns of work necessary to bring the technology to bear upon the resources” (Steward. Evolution and Ecology (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 22.). In a similar manner, Bourgois cites the “mode of production” as a huge determinant in the formation of Nuyorican culture. Although Bourgois discusses the “mode of production” in terms of how his subjects have moved through various modes of earning a living to reach the point that they are currently at (Bourgois 602), he suggests that the accessibility of income is a major part of determining culture traits among this urban population. Therefore, a major similarity between Steward and Bourgois can be reduced to the fact that they both look to the mode of production as the basic structure of society. By discussing "modes of production," the two imply that subsistence is the basic fact of human life and that every day existence is a struggle for survival.


Jill Coen--Response

Besides 'modes of production' and the 'struggle for survival,' I feel another Marxist parallel can be drawn between Steward's cultural/social types and Bourgois' dealing with class. Whereas Bourgois has more a literal use of class issues in his discussion of Nuyorican workers, Steward describes cultural/social types (like the patrilineal "bands") as a particular arrangement/group of people in relation to technological access to ecological resources. I found it interesting in the footnotes of the readings that such Marxist interpretations were dangerous at the time given the communist scare prevalent at the time of these publications.


Chelsey Megli -- Response

I think a fundamental problem that we have with reading these two, (particularly Bourgois) is that they are discussing anthropological theory and cultural change in terms of economic and political theory. IT is not only the diffusion of such theory to anthropology that is problematic, but rather that the language of these fields of studies makes our effort as students more difficult. We have to convert this terminology and ideas such as "modes of production" to the paradigms that we have been taught to think of in our discussions on culture. I agree that the origins and even nature of Steward and Bourgois are very similar. They do have a difference in approach and perspective, but sometimes the two seem more diametrically opposed because they exist in a different academic sphere.


Borgois, Steward and Marx

Abigail Parker

Both Steward and Borgois assert that culture forms in response to environmental pressures. Borgois focuses on how structures promoting street behavior construct a culture diametrically opposed to bourgeois culture in present-day New York City, whereas Steward discusses how patrilineal and matrilineal bands arose in the context of geographical constants. I would emphacize that both approaches heavily rely on a view that constructs culture or identity in the context of greater structures than the individual. This reminded me of Tylor's view of fixed laws defining culture, and seems in direct opposition to the work of the structural functionalists who seem to view cultural functions being constructed by humans to satisfy a human need.


Whatever other influence, Steward and Borgois should be discussed in a context of Marx. Both anthropologists focus on Marxist theory anchored in materialism. Steward examines paraphernalia in the context of cultural features (251-252). Similarly, mode of production manifests itself in interpersonal conflict. It dictates the basic structure of how Nuoyorican identity is formed according to Borgois, where the ethos of factory work has pervaded conceptualizations of masculinity in el Barrio. Marxism interprets the emergence of society as steeped in conflict; Borgois shows conflicts between legal and illegal jobs that Nuoyoricans have, and often the inner conflict that results from this. Also, his portrayal of New York culture is a turbulent one, constantly in flux, leaving those who depend on it (the Nuoyoricans) most vulnerable and swayed by structures outside of their control. In Steward, I see a schism with this particular element of Marxism. Steward focuses mostly on how groups of people come together and stay together. Because he studies small bands, class differentiations are nearly non-existant. Marxism interpretations are a common thread in the approaches of Steward and Borgois.


emma roberts

I would argue that a main difference between the way Steward and Bourgois view culture is the way they assess behavior as a result of culture. Steward repeatedly states that culture should not be analyzed in terms of culture. He writes, “The normative concept, which views culture as a system of mutually reinforcing practices hacked by a set of attitudes and values, seems to regard all human behavior as so completely determined by culture that environmental adaptations have no effect”. While Bourgois, on the other hand, does not deny that culture is influenced by environment, he concentrates the majority of his analysis on the way that behavior is influenced by culture, rather than the way that culture is influenced by environment.


Another difference I notice in terms of the structure of their articles is how Steward approaches the topic from a broad overview of the different forms of subsistence and how they would change with environment, while Bourgois focuses in on a specific group and analyzes a change that occurred within a matter of years and uses that as his example of how the modes of production can influence culture. Finally, I find the Bourgois places more of an emphasis on history (and especially how the changes through time effect the individuals).



Alexandra Gagne


I have to agree with Emma and Abigail. I think they can be unified based on their materialist perspectives. Modes of production and environmental factors drive their theories greatly. According to their arguments, human needs and their context play enormous roles in shaping culture. I can see their Marxist influences, but I am still struck more by their differences. Steward explicitly bases his argument on ecology, stating the culture takes cues from surroundings. I felt like Bourgois didn't even take this into account in describing drug dealing in New York, as Emma said, it was more of an analysis of the dynamic between behavior and culture.

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